Question: What is a plugin and what are plugins used for in WordPress?
Answer: A plugin is simply a piece of add-on software that adds functionality to your WordPress website.
What makes them great is the fact that they are easy to install (how to install WordPress plugins). And that there is a plugin, for almost anything you can imagine, available for free in the WordPress Plugin Directory.
An example of a plugin is the Fast Secure Contact Form. And as the name implies it can be used to add a contact form to your website (I use that very plugin and you can see what it looks like on my contact page).
How to Use Plugins in WordPress
If you need some kind of extra functionality added to your website (ex. social sharing buttons, a forum or the ability to display the most popular posts), you start by finding an appropriate plugin. Then you install, activate and change the settings to what ever you prefer – and you are good to go (see the article about how to setup WordPress – if you want to know what plugins I use).
It is however a good idea to stick with popular plugins, to avoid brand new software that doesn’t work properly. A good rule of thumb is only to pick plugins with 4 stars or more and 10,000+ downloads.
But before you go bananas with plugins on your website, you should know that a lot of plugins can make your website load slower (which is bad for both visitors and search engines) and sometimes plugins conflict with each other which can result in the plugins not working.